MBA Interview Tips Post 5: Video Essays

[NOTE: This post is the fifth in a series; if interested please see the introduction and tip 1, tip 2, tip 3, and tip 4.]

Click here for 6 more tips for answering video MBA essay questions.

Video Essay: Natural Experience or Performance?

Wait, why is a video essay featured in a series on MBA interviews?

Because it works like an interview in its visual presentation of you and it functions like a conversation.

Kellogg, Yale, and Rotman have included required video essays (or “screen tests” as Poets & Quants dubs this element) in their applications.  It’s been an option, rather infrequently used, at NYU Stern for years.

Why adcoms use this method:   

• It allows the adcom to see the applicants respond in almost-real-time to questions.

• It allows the adcom to test applicants’ ability to organize their thoughts and present a response both meaningful and succinct.

• Applicants “shine” in different ways, and an applicant who shines in interpersonal communication and charisma may not make it through to a competitive interview with written essays; now the adcom can spot these applicants.

• Similarly, someone may shine in the conventional written essays, but be inappropriate or unprofessional in presentation, and the adcom can now spot and weed out these applicants early, without expending additional resources on interviews.

Process:  Basically, you click on a link in the application, and you are given a question to answer.  You are being timed, so you can’t halt the process, go away for an hour and plan a careful response. Rather, the application gives you a minute or so to compose your thoughts.  Then you have a short window, usually one to two minutes, to video-record your answer.  You can view your response, but you can’t change it.  Sometimes the application give you a few “tries,” but you can’t re-record an answer if you don’t like what you did the first time.  You can only move on to the next question.  The reason is that the adcoms are trying to avoid a rehearsed, nonspontaneous reply.  The last question is literally your last chance in the video essay – you can’t go back and redo earlier attempts.

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: if you present yourself comfortably and are photogenic, the medium plays to these strengths.

• Benefit: the process may take less time than a written essay.

• Benefit: for non-native English speakers, you can demonstrate solid English speaking skills—especially beneficial if you have a low verbal GMAT score and/or borderline TOEFL.

• Benefit: The skills and attributes it highlights differ from and complement those highlighted by written essays, improving the chances for different kinds of applicants to shine in the initial application.

• Pitfall: you have a limited time and can’t second guess your answer; once it’s done it’s done (whereas with a written essay you can revise it up until submission if you have further thoughts for improving it).

• Pitfall: although the adcoms call it a conversation, it actually isn’t very natural or comfortable to talk into a camera with no human response; some people need a lot of practice to overcome a strange sensation with this medium.

• Pitfall: for people who are methodical, the short prep and answer time works against your natural inclination and doesn’t play to your strength.

• Pitfall: you’re at the mercy of well-functioning technology and Internet connections.

While not exactly a pitfall, there’s also the reality that even though adcoms strive for objectivity in evaluating applicants, the video essay creates the potential for them to be subjectively influenced (pro or con) by an applicant’s physical appearance early in the “weeding” process.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):

• Review Accepted.com’s tips for this interview format.

• Practice with a video camera, YouTube, or other formats, speaking to a camera without a person involved.

• Practice coming up with short answers to a range of questions – limit your prep time so it’s similar to the video essay’s, and find a technique that works for you for gathering your thoughts quickly and identifying a key point or message.

• Consider the whole visual picture: not just having hair combed and appropriate attire, but also the background and lighting – all should enhance the presentation.

• The adcoms say they want a spontaneous, natural experience of the applicant, but it may not be natural for you to look at and speak to a non-responsive camera.  It’s the illusion of naturalism; it’s acting, it’s performance, essentially.  To create your best impression, understand and analyze your gestures, cadence, tone – what makes your presentation reflect “you” effectively?  A good actor is deliberately and thoughtfully natural, not mindlessly natural.  You’re actually performing your best self.

MBA Video Essays: A Conversation with Rotman’s Niki da Silva

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

MBA Interview Tips Post 4: Team-Based Discussion Interviews

[NOTE: This post is the fourth in a series; if interested please see the introduction and tip 1, tip 2, and tip 3.]

Check out our Wharton Zone for info, tips, stats and more.

Make your goal the team’s success, not its adoption of your idea.

Wharton and Ross have initiated a new MBA interview format, the team-based discussion (TBD). This type of interview brings a group of applicants together in person to work through a problem together as an organizational team does. This team activity is followed by a short one-to-one talk with an adcom representative (either a second-year student or an adcom member). It is now part of Wharton’s regular mode for interviews. At Ross, it’s still experimental and not always required, and they use traditional methods for their evaluative interviews.

Why adcoms use this method:

• Some adcoms have found traditional interview modes increasingly ineffective as they feel that candidates over-prepare and over-strategize for interviews, thus undercutting authenticity.
• The adcoms want to see the candidates in team action, since students’ success in the program (and in their future career) will rest in part on their teamwork and interpersonal skills.
• This approach gives the adcom insight into the applicants that no other application component provides – how they actually respond to people and situations in real time.
• The post-activity discussion shows your ability to self-reflect and analyze your own role and performance – qualities the adcom values.

Process:

Wharton – When you receive an invitation to interview, you’ll go online and select a time and date to attend a 5- or 6-member, approximately 45-minute TBD. Wharton will send you a prompt, which is the topic for the team activity; Wharton advises spending about an hour preparing with this prompt. In the TBD, each person will have a minute to articulate his own idea on the topic, and then the team will work together toward a group decision. After the TBD, you will meet individually with one of the two evaluators for 10-15 minutes to discuss your thoughts on how it went. You and the evaluator may discuss other topics as well.

Ross –Ross sends no prompt. Rather, it’s more like a team-building activity. You’ll receive the invitation to participate when you receive your regular interview invite, and can accept or decline. If you accept, you’ll meet in a group of 4-6. The team is given 2 words, and they first prepare individual presentations connecting these words (10 minutes for this portion). Then the group receives additional random words, and they have 20 minutes to prepare a team presentation that uses the words to address a problem and articulate a solution. The individuals in the team, not the team as a whole, are evaluated either by second-year students or adcom members, who also interview them separately afterward.

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: You can showcase your interpersonal, team, and leadership skills more vividly than any essay or individual interview could portray.

• Benefit: You can get a real flavor of the programs’ teamwork dynamic.

• Benefit: You can enjoy meeting peers and potential classmates.

• Drawback: You have less control, as you have to assess and respond to the group dynamics instantly; there is no margin for error.

• Drawback: Logistically it’s complex – always harder to get a group together.

• Drawback: While the adcoms think it gives them a lens on you as a team player, in “real life” you usually have some time to adapt to a new team, and your true teamwork abilities will come out over time as you respond, whereas here there’s no time to grow and adapt with the team, so it’s a somewhat artificial setup.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):

• Review Accepted.com’s tips for this interview format.

• For Wharton, prepare and practice your one-minute presentation.

• For Ross, do the word activity with yourself or a friend, to get used to it.

• Think about your inclinations, behaviors, feelings, and approaches when working in a team or group setting, and also ask a colleague or two for some objective feedback. You shouldn’t change your natural approach, but you can certainly play to your strengths and minimize negative tendencies.

• Read online about other applicants’ experiences with the group interview.

• Make your goal the team’s success and ability to complete the assigned task, not its adoption of your idea.

ace_the_wharton_tbd



Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

MBA Interview Tip 3: Phone and Skype MBA Interviews

[NOTE: This post is part of a series; if interested please view the introduction.  Links to the first two advice tips are below.]

For more interview advice, check out our upcoming 10 Commandments of MBA Interviews webinar!

Don’t be tempted to use notes for a phone interview.

Phone and Skype are often used for MBA interviews when an in-person interview isn’t feasible.

A phone interview is simply a conversation by phone; it’s in real time and there is no visual component.

A Skype interview is a conversation via Skype with video on.  A Skype interview with video off is like the phone interview (as you surely know, sometimes Skype works better with the video off if the connection is unstable).

Phone and Skype interviews can replace either:

• the in-person interview with an adcom member, or

• the in-person interview with a student or alumnus.

In both cases, follow the guidelines and tips for these two interview formats in the previous linked posts.

Why adcoms use these methods: Phone and Skype allow adcoms, alumni, and students to interview applicants in situations where it might not otherwise be possible, e.g., remotely located applicant, sudden change in one party’s schedule, interruptions such as weather-related flight changes, etc.

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: can showcase your adaptability and comfort with any communication medium.

• Benefit: if you establish a warm, “human” connection with the interviewer over the technology, it can really stand out and leave a strong positive impression.

• Pitfall: you’re at the mercy of the technology functioning well.

• Pitfall: it can seem awkward compared to an in-person interview.

• Pitfall: for Skype, you have to pay attention not just to yourself but to your setting and your position vis-à-vis the camera.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews and in addition to the advice in the two previous links above):

• For phone interviews, dress professionally even though you will not be seen – it will help you maintain, and reflect, a professional mindset and focus.

• It’s tempting to use notes for a phone interview, because you’re “invisible,” but I suggest using either none or at most “topic reminders”; your tone and cadence will almost certainly reveal that you are reading from notes, even if you’re sure you sound natural and are sure the interviewer can’t tell!

• Similar to above, for Skype, those notes you think are out of view – even if they are, it’s noticeable that you’re glancing at them.  Unless you’re a well-seasoned professional actor, skip the notes with Skype.

• For Skype, beforehand prepare the background (i.e. lighting, visuals) and your camera position (you don’t want the camera aiming up at your neck).

• Practice a bit on the medium, even though you normally engage well in person.  It’s a different sense and feel than in person.

 • Clarify who’s going to call whom, at what time, in which time zone.

Tips to help you ace those MBA interviews!

 

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

MBA Interview Tip 2: In-Person Interview with MBA Student or Alumnus

Check out our tips for completing the top b-schools application essays!

Use common sense in your dress.

[NOTE: This post is part of a series; if interested please view the introduction.]

Many MBA adcoms delegate the interviewing to alumni and students. In this scenario, typically second-year students interview the applicants who come to campus, and alumni interview off-campus – though in some cases, they also will conduct the local interviews.

Why adcoms use method: Among other things, it allows the adcom members to focus their resources on application review and decision making.

• This approach is a way to keep alumni engaged and involved with the school, and it gives students a voice in the admissions process.
• The adcom already sees the application; this approach gives them another set of eyes and ears, another perspective on the applicant – the perspective of someone invested in the program.
• The alumni and student interviewers market the program to you in a way that official admissions representatives, who usually haven’t attended the program, cannot.

In these interviews, you are not making your case directly to a decision maker. However, admissions offices assert that these interviews have as much weight as ones with adcom members.

Some schools that use this method: Columbia, Kellogg, Duke.

Blind or not blind: Usually alumni and student interviews are blind, i.e., the interviewer will not read your application before the interview, but probably will review your resume.

Process: Alumni and students usually are trained for the interviews. You meet with an alumnus off campus or a student on campus. The off- campus sites can be anywhere from the interviewer’s office to a coffee shop. The interview is a one-on-one conversation with the interviewer, during which she will ask you questions, usually at least some of which are predetermined and will typically cover basic topics such as goals. While you should be prepared for challenging questions, it’s usually a getting-to-know-you introductory discussion. If you are socially adept, you will not just answer questions but may also facilitate conversation. Afterward, the interviewer will write a report to the adcom on the interview.

NOTE: If you are a non-native English speaker interviewing with an alumnus in your own country, please expect to conduct the interview in English!

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: can showcase your strong interpersonal and communication skills by the in-person contact.
• Benefit: often a less formal, more natural conversational ambience than with an adcom member. Usually less stressful.
• Benefit: if a student or alum interview does not go well, it is less likely to be a deciding factor than an adcom interview.
• Benefit: if the interview goes well and you are wait-listed, you may have an ally in the interviewer.
• Pitfall: the interviewer is a third party in-between you and the adcom; with each additional link in the chain comes more chance for misunderstanding, miscommunication, etc.
• Pitfall: you have no control over what the adcom actually sees regarding the interview.
• Pitfall: alumni are often very busy, and schedule changes are not uncommon.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):

• Review on Accepted.com and other websites comments by previous interviewees regarding the likely questions. Your interviewer may have a strict script or may be free to improvise, but usually they have at least some questions specified by the adcom.
• Practice answering these questions and other common interview questions – but don’t over-rehearse or memorize verbatim. The biggest turnoff (IMHO) is the glib, over-practiced applicant.
• Google your interviewer beforehand. Think about how to connect with him or her.
• Use common sense in your dress – most of the time business attire will be appropriate. But if you’re meeting a 28-year-old alumna at Starbucks at 9 AM on Saturday morning, pinstripes and cufflinks would be a little jarring.
• The interviewer will summarize the interview to the adcom; make simple, clear points to increase the chance of a strong and vivid report.
• Send the interviewer a thank-you note, just like your mother used to make you write.

Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.

MBA Interview Tip 1: In-Person Interview with Adcom Member

Get more MBA interview tips

You have the opportunity to showcase your strong interpersonal and communication skills to a high-value decision-maker.

[NOTE: This post is the second in a series; if you are interested in starting with the first post, please see the overview of different MBA interview types.] Some MBA adcoms choose to interview candidates individually, themselves, and do not delegate this task to alumni or students. Why adcoms use method: It’s a resource-intensive process, but adcoms get as much as they invest.  Moreover, they narrow down the field first, so only those under serious consideration are invited.

• Especially for competitive schools, each seat is precious, and nothing substitutes for the adcom member’s own ears and eyes in ascertaining who should have it.

• Admissions professionals are trained experts in evaluating candidates, and in this interview method they can exercise that expertise in an optimal setting.

• They can see firsthand not just the “real you” but the “whole you”: your interpersonal finesse + the content of your answers + your physical presence.  They evaluate what you say, and also your social skills, speaking (and English-speaking) ability, and demeanor as you interact with them directly.

For these reasons, this type of interview has real weight in the admissions decision. Some schools that use this method: Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan. Process:  In this interview approach, you meet with an adcom member, either on campus or in a city where the adcom is visiting. The interview is a one-on-one conversation with the adcom member, during which he will ask you questions, often a mix of application-specific questions and other questions he’s prepared.  Expect any area of ambiguity to be questioned. This is a probing, in-depth interview. If you are socially adept, you will not just answer questions but may also facilitate conversation. Blind or not blind: Usually adcom interviews are not blind, i.e., the interviewer will have read your application before the interview and will likely have some questions about it. Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: can showcase your strong interpersonal and communication skills to a high-value decision-maker.

• Benefit: the fact that some discussion will be based on your application opens the door for more of a dialogue, less of an “interrogation” feel.

 • Benefit OR pitfall: the adcom is already invested in you to an ex

tent, which can make you more motivated, inspired, and focused – or more nervous, depending on your temperament.

• Pitfall: to ace the interview you must find a way to connect with the interviewer even if the natural chemistry isn’t great.

• Pitfall: a bad interview with an adcom member could seriously impair your chances.

How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):

• Review your application closely for areas of potential weakness or things that could raise questions, and be prepared to discuss.

• Discuss/use examples and stories that are not in your application.

• Arm yourself with detailed info about the program and new points about how it will benefit you and how you will contribute.

• Put your ego aside and do whatever is needed to connect with the interviewer.

• Be yourself – this type of trained, professional interviewer has a radar for inauthenticity.

Tips to help you ace those MBA interviews!
Cindy Tokumitsu By , co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.